This week, I’ve been thinking a good deal about truth; not absolute, capital-T Truth, but the smaller truth of felt experience. I’ve been noticing how often we lie; that is, how often we neglect to tell the truth about what we’re feeling and what we value. We say we’re fine when we’re not. We say we like the book (or movie or restaurant or meeting time) that everyone else prefers, when our actual preference is very different. We tell white lies to make life ‘easier’, but the truth is that these little lies eat away at us.
And by we, clearly, I mean I.
Yet this isn’t just a question of telling the truth to others. In fact, change (in the form of honesty) can’t start there. Change has to start with telling the truth about ourselves, to ourselves. Change has to start with seeing the boxes that we put ourselves into, how we avoid certain truths for the sake of our public personas.
For example, I consider myself a diligent, responsible person. My behavior often reflects diligence and responsibility. But I am also a playful person. I love to laugh and dance and sing into my hairbrush. Yet I fear revealing this part of myself. I tend to suppress my fun-loving side, except with my family and close friends.
I fear being seen as inconsistent, yet it’s this same fear that limits me. This fear keeps me from being whole.
This idea of wholeness was on my mind when I sat down at the supper table at L’Arche this past Thursday. The prayer-time question that night was, “What is your favorite smell of fall?” As we passed around a candle, each of us shared what we liked best.
The question invited us to savor simplicity and remember small delights, and it was also a truth-telling practice. Being honest in a safe and supportive environment like L’Arche builds up my strength. It helps me learn how to be (lovingly) honest in more difficult situations.
When the candle came to me, I said, “It’s a toss-up between the cinnamon smell from a fresh-baked apple pie and the smell of a wood-burning fireplace.”
After I shared, my husband Jonathan glared at me, playfully. “You’re supposed to choose one,” he said. The reason for his comment became clear when he shared his favorite scent: the smell of wood burning. “You stole mine!” he whispered. I smiled.
Jonathan passed the candle to Leo*, and I anticipated Leo’s answer: something about food. Others had shared scents like “Pumpkin pie” and “Turkey”, and that’s what I expected from him.
Instead, what Leo said was, “I like the smell of the leaves as they fall from the trees.”
Just when I think I know what to expect from Leo, he says something like that, and it knocks out my preconceived expectations. In fact, Leo has been surprising me and changing my life since day one.
When Leo sheds his historian persona by speaking poetically, I feel empowered to break my own molds. In such moments, Leo makes me feel like it’s okay to be a series of seemingly contradictory things…as though being in contradiction is an essential part of being human, being alive.
As I walk through our neighborhood this autumn, I keep an eye out for Leo. I often see him walking home from McDonald’s, where he gets coffee every day. He walks very slowly, so he’s easy to spot.
When I see him shuffling along, I’ll feel what I always feel: gladness, protective tenderness, and the feeling of a prayer rising within me. Whenever I see him, I pray that he be well and that his life be full of good things.
And I’ll know that, as he walks, he’s breathing in the smell of the leaves as they fall from the trees. I’ll know that he’s seeing beauty in this time of decay, and that dying doesn’t scare him. I’ll watch this one man making his way home, and the sight will break me open as it always does.
Even as I leave my role as program director to become a full-time writer, I know that, in a very real sense, I’m living the mission of L’Arche in a way I never have before. By stepping forward as a writer, I’m telling the truth about who I am and what I love.
That is to say, I’m becoming who I’ve always been.
What’s your favorite scent of fall? &/or…
What small-but-significant truth do you need to tell today?
Tell me in the comments!
Love’s Subversive Stance will launch on Tuesday, December 6th for those on the advance notification list, and Thursday, December 8th for the general public. If you’re on the advance list, you’ll have the opportunity to get the book for $10. (The book’s regular price will be $20.) Also, consider receiving new posts via email; you’ll receive Your Creed of Care as well!
*Names have been changed.